Sailing above the sales
The Comeraghs offer calm after commercial Clonmel
I am an irredeemably useless shopper, so the New Year sales aren’t exactly my cup of tea. Occasions arrive, however, when needs must and so, imbued with the grim single-mindedness of a Monday morning commuter, I recently headed for Clonmel in search of bargain walking trousers. Two draining hours later I had a book on gardening, a flight of fancy in the form of a Christmas jumper that had snared me with 50 per cent off, but sadly no walking pants.
With a headache threatening, escape was urgent, and so abandoning the New Year throngs to the world of strident materialism, I headed up the Mountain Road towards the timeless serenity of the Comeragh Mountains.
At the the Nire Valley car park, I donned my tatty old walking pants and followed the white poles marking an ancient trade route that bisected the Comeraghs in times when long walks arose from necessity.
Reflecting how much I enjoy the earthy tang of an upland winter day, I arrived at the gap – a low saddle between Knockanaffrin (Mass Mountain, pictured) and the immense Comeragh plateau. Here, a magical prospect opened up over the already darkening shadowlands of Waterford and Kilkenny before melting away to the sombre outline of the distant Blackstairs Mountains.
Turning northwest, I ascended the Knockanaffrin Ridge which now rose in undemanding steps like a benign heavenly staircase to reach a level section above Coumduala Lake. An appealing gully descended on my right to this pretty tear-shaped tarn but, resisting temptation, I continued upwards.
Crossing a fence, I walked through marvellously unspoilt topography with immense drops to my right. Now, the ridge showed itself an unlikely place for celebrating Mass since it consists a series of spiky tors – known locally as the Seven Sisters. At the highest point the exact summit of Knockanaffrin proved hard to identify, amid a chaotic jumble of boulders.
Easier to pinpoint was Clonmel for the street lights had now come on presenting a twinkling illusion of peace and timelessness in contrast to the reality of the frenetically commercial sales season in towns across Ireland.
I turned and retraced my steps with the darkened, winter Comeraghs now seeming higher, more mysterious and more introspective.
Surreal and almost unrecognisable, Coumduala Lake re-appeared below and disappeared again in mesmerising twilight mist. This acted as a timely reminder to swing right and descend in to the southwest towards the Nire Valley car park using a fence as a handrail.
The dying light in the west seemed to only accentuate the enormous vista into the vast jaws of the Nire coums while all around there was captivating stillness and silence. In darkness, I arrived at the deserted car park in hugely more relaxed mood while feeling assured I had taken the last light an abbreviated winter day could offer.
Start point: From Clonmel, take the R671 to Ballymacarberry village. Go left opposite Melody’s pub and continue until you reach a thatched house by a scenic bridge. Here, a narrow road leads right for about 4km to the Nire Valley car park.
Time: About 3.5 hours.
Suitability: Moderately challenging outing suitable for well-equipped walkers.
Map: OSi Discovery Series sheet 75.